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Football: Wayne: Molineux revived my lost dream; WALES 0 CZECH REPUBLIC 0 EUROPEAN CHAMPS, GROUP D.

Byline: By HARRY NOBLE

WAYNE Hennessey may be flying at the moment - but his career was almost grounded before it even started.

The Wolves youngster recently appeared for his club in the Championship play-off semi-finals, made his international debut against New Zealand at Wrexham last week and has been hailed as "the best goalkeeper of his age in Britain".

But four years ago he feared his footballing future was in jeopardy - when he was overlooked in favour of legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel's son Kasper in the battle to be youth-team goalkeeper at Manchester City.

The 20-year-old stopper, above, recalled: "I'd played for City since I was 14.

"My parents, Helen and Paul, had moved from Anglesey to Connah's Quay just so that I was within an hour's drive of Manchester and eligible to go to City's academy. I can't imagine many people would uproot their lives to enable their child to follow his dream and I'll be forever grateful to them."

Initially things worked out well for the youngster - or so he thought.

"I was getting praised a lot by all the youth-team coaches at Manchester City," he said. "I was playing for the youth team regularly and doing very well - then suddenly Kasper Schmeichel came in and got a big contract.

"I was only offered a one-year deal which meant I would be second choice to Kasper and my chances of impressing City and gaining a professional deal would have been remote.

"I was so disappointed. My parents and I decided to reject Manchester City's offer, even though they were a Premiership club."

Hennessey later learnt that Kasper's elevation came at the behest of his famous father. Schmeichel Senior, who was City's No.1 at the time, had told the club he'd prolong his playing career by another year only if his son was awarded YTS terms.

As a result Hennessey, who was still only 16, was told by the Academy directors that because of "pressure from the top" they could offer him only the shortterm deal as back-up to Schmeichel Jr.

And the 6ft 5in Hennessey, who finally ended up at Molineux, admits he will be forever grateful to Wolverhampton Wanderers' academy director Chris Evans for resurrecting his career.

Evans was previously Anglesey's football development officer and had been a long-time fan of Hennessey since spotting him playing in a Sunday morning game.

Evans says: "Wayne has always been a very commanding goalkeeper because of his exceptional size. But he has everything.

"He is a great kicker, a very good shot-stopper and great in the air from crosses, and organises his defence brilliantly.

"I believe he is the best goalkeeper of his age in the country.

He's a fantastic talent."

Hennessey first showed on the media radar this season when he was loaned out to League Two Stockport County.

During those three months he recorded nine consecutive clean sheets to break a long-standing Football League record.

If that was enough to add Wales boss John Toshack to his growing number of admirers, he could hardly have expected to make such a high-profile Wolves debut just a month later. It came in the two-legged Championship playoff semi-finals against arch rivals West Bromwich Albion, and, although Wolves lost the contest 4-2 on aggregate, the Welsh keeper emerged with great credit from both games.

Wolves boss Mick McCarthy compared him to Ireland's No.1 Shay Given and ex-Wales keeper Neville Southall was another to sing his praises.

"Nev was my hero so to hear he thought I played well makes me happy," said Hennessey, who was coached by Southall during his days with Wales' Under-19s.

"Nev is the best goalkeeper ever in my eyes. If I could follow in his footsteps and achieve half of what he did, I'd be pleased."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 3, 2007
Words:630
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